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What is the Ketogenic Diet and Does it Work?

ketogenic diet food options

The year was 1984. Time magazine had just published its controversial article on why cholesterol is bad for your health. The era of the low-fat diet insurgence in America was just beginning, and companies had started creating and labeling products as "low fat" or "cholesterol free."

Over the past several decades, research on low-fat diets has evolved. Since releasing its infamous review, Time has released follow-up articles that suggest cholesterol and fat may not be as bad as originally thought. The recent popularity of high-fat diets, such as the ketogenic diet, have helped this long-despised macronutrient gain some positive traction. Still, there exist many myths and misconceptions around the ketogenic diet.

The Basics

The name "ketogenic" comes from ketosis. At its most basic level, ketosis is the body's process of turning fat into energy. When your body's carbohydrate stores are low, you convert stored fat into ketones, which supply energy to the body. A ketogenic diet stresses the consumption of natural fats and protein—such as meat, fish, and poultry—while limiting carbohydrates. This maintains ketosis over a sustained period of time.

Even though ketogenic diets have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, this type of diet has been around since the 1920s. Physicians used the science of ketosis to treat epilepsy; after the introduction of anti-epileptic drugs, the use of ketosis as a treatment declined dramatically. The diet has seen a rebirth over the past decade as researchers studied ketosis both as a weight loss solution and neurodegenerative disorder treatment.

The Benefits

ketogenic diet food benefits

Because the body turns the fat into energy after its carbohydrate stores are depleted, the ketogenic diet has potential weight loss benefits. Research has shown that fats and proteins are the most satiating, while carbohydrates are the least. Because you feel full longer after eating fats and proteins, you reduce the number of calories you eat overall.

One of the most researched benefits, however, is how eating a high-fat diet can treat disorders such as epilepsy and Alzheimer's. There are also potential benefits for some diabetics, as ketosis can help your body regulate its blood sugar. But an overabundance of ketones can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, so those with type 1 diabetes may choose to pursue other dietary options.

The Myths

Despite the popularity of the ketogenic diet, there are still plenty of myths surrounding it.

Some people believe that it's dangerous when your body enters ketosis. However, it's important to understand the difference between ketosis, which is nutritionally safe, and ketoacidosis, which is caused by a lack of insulin and can increase blood sugar significantly. The ketogenic diet keeps the body in ketosis, not ketoacidosis. It's still important to monitor your ketone levels and consult with your doctor before embarking on this diet, since ketoacidosis is a serious medical issue.

Dieters should also be aware that while some researchers have linked high-fat diets to heart disease and certain types of cancers, evidence is conflicting, with experts falling on both sides of the debate.

Going Keto

ketogenic diet food options

Getting the adequate amount of fat required to send your body into ketosis is fairly easy. Common sources of keto-approved fat include salmon, avocados, and coconut oil. For example, you could throw a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil into your favorite smoothie. Or you could pull a keto classic and mix in a tablespoon of butter or coconut oil into your coffee. When going keto, make sure to drink lots of water, resist processed foods, track what you eat, and monitor your blood sugar levels.

If you think that a ketogenic diet might be right for you and your health goals, do your research and talk to a doctor before attempting this lifestyle change.

For diabetics, regulating blood sugar and tracking what foods you eat are crucial habits. To learn more about healthy eating options for diabetics, check out the diabetes diet.

Photos: PJjaruwan / Shutterstock.com, threelayercake, tanjichica / Shutterstock.com